[Tech Tuesday] TomNod – How To Crowd Source a Crisis

Innovative, creative, addictive, mind-boggling, problem-solving and social; modern technology has come a long way over the last quarter century – if not justwithin this past decade.  After Nevada voted to allow autonomous automobiles in 2011,  Google has been feverishly developing a self-driving car technology adorably named ‘Google Chauffeur’.  Championed by the brilliant Sebastian Thrun – director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, expert Google Engineer and last but certainly not least the co-inventor of Google Street View, the project is still in closed beta testing mode up at their Mountain View campus.  Since the inception of the application, 3 more states (Florida, California and Michigan) have all put laws into effect allowing self-driving vehicles on the roads. Two years ago, the One Laptop Per Child‘ experiment oversaw the distribution dozens of iPads to a pair of remote villages in Ethiopia. Five months later – without instructions, assistance and only themselves to trouble shoot with- children had learned how to read and write English, and even hack the machines.  And now, thanks to TomNod – even the most disastrous of a crisis is transformed into a resourceful and useful technological tool.


TomNod first made headway back in November during Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and were soon acquired by Digital Globe; using Digital Globe’s satellite imaging technology, thousands of users from around the world explore real-time maps to solve real-world issues.As of right now, Malaysian  Airlines Flight 370 has been missing from sight, sound and radar since this past Sunday morning.  Until resolved, this event will be the first thing on every flight attendant and pilots mind, an unnerving thought of every conscientious traveler and while every news station, outlet and blog tries to make sense of the calamity.  My first reaction was (and still is) two-fold: (a) I still (at 29) plug my ears while the flight attendants breeze through the security pamphlet; which means the empath inside is shaking in her boots and (b) want to help; somehow, someway.  In the past few years, whenever a global crisis has hit I’ve managed to donate a small bit of what I make; it isn’t much, but it’s more than nothing – and to me, that’s something. So, when my boyfriend leaned over this morning to show me a great way to use, and crowd-source, data – I was all eyes, ears and heart.

The application is fairly simple – head over to the TomNod page and you’ll get a quick description of the program and a bit of background on the types of anomalies you might come across.  It takes a bit of time to load, but quadrants satellite imagery over the Gulf of Thailand will populate right in front of you.   If you think you’ve found something questionable, click one of the neon stamped circles on the left of your screen.  You’ll then be taken to a new window, where you’ll essentially take your cursor and drop a tag onto the map and don’t forget to add a description.  On the right side of your screen, you’ll see three metrics: the first is the number of quadrants searched, second is how many objects you’ve tagged and finally, how many other sources agree with your tags.  Below, you’ll see a map of how the quadrants you’ve searched stack up in the grand scheme of things.  If you have a few moments to spare, please lend your eyes to the TomNod team and the families of those affected; you never know what kind of a difference you can make until you try.